One thing everyone hates more than walking to the Bagel Store is almost being run over by a speeding motorist on their journey. It has been quite apparent that Howard Ave. (where Wagner College is located) with all of its twists and turns, lack of crosswalks and traffic lights, and aggressive drivers is extremely unsafe. This is no surprise, but the reality of the situation sank in last year with the tragic death of Wagner student R.J. Tillman, who was struck by a speeding vehicle while bicycling home. The concerns of Wagner students, alumni, and administrators have led to many changes that are helping to change the dangerous conditions on our neighboring streets, and I feel as though we can all band together as a community and further make our community safer for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists!
Many of the changes have come about because of the efforts of Laura Barlament, editor of the Wagner Magazine and associate director of communications and marketing. I sat down with Laura to talk to her about why she chose to get involved in changing the conditions on these roads and what improvements have been made. Since Laura has worked here, she has walked and cycled to work and has felt very unsafe traveling. On a road that is a major hub between Wagner College, Grymes Hill, and St. John's University, it is horrible that there are no crosswalks and unsafe sidewalks where pedestrians cannot get a good view at oncoming traffic.
Last summer, Laura was actually hit by a motorist and was knocked off her bike to the ground! This left her angry and further proved to her just how unsafe traveling up and down Howard Ave. can be. After speaking with Alex Lojo, who was at that time a staff member in Wagner's external programs office, she learned that letters were already written by Wagner's public safety director, Anthony Martinesi, to the Department of Transportation. The DOT stated that they had studied the area, but could see nothing wrong with the conditions. Laura collected a list of complaints from various residents, students, and colleagues, to submit to a community board, but the momentum seemed to fizzle out by the time the New Year came around.
Tragically in February, earlier this year, R.J. Tillman was hit and killed, which caused Laura to once again vow to do whatever it took to help solve the problems on Howard Ave. and the surrounding streets. The tragedy caused other people to add their voices to the problem. With the help of Amerika Grewal, Laura was able to get the College to purchase signs that urge travelers to "share the road" and "slow down and save lives." They also planned a community forum and met with Tom Cocola, the Staten Island borough commissioner of the DOT. Laura and other concerned employees of the college showed Cocola areas where they felt the conditions were especially unsafe. Laura and friends created enough buzz that Janette Sadik-Khan, the commissioner of the DOT for all of NYC, came to talk about the conditions as well.
The initial results of raising awareness of the unsafe conditions on Howard Ave. were that there were more police patrols and a speed monitor was installed near the main gate. The speed limit on Howard Avenue used to be 30 mph but has been reduced to 25 mph. It is also exciting to note that there is a traffic light being installed near Howard Ave. and Hillside Ave., which will hopefully lead to a crosswalk and a reduction in speed on the roads. Cocola has also stated that he plans to install road narrowing devices near Clove Rd. and Campus Rd. in order to deter speeding in these areas as well.
With the help of a Freshman LC, which is focusing on Global Health Concerns, Laura hopes to implement traffic surveys to see how the installation of a new traffic light will help reduce traffic violations such as speeding, cell phone use, failure to follow signage, illegal passing, and failure to use signals.
Future goals also include the implementation of bike "sharrows," which help alert drivers and cyclists that the avenue is a shared roadway, installing more crosswalks, especially near Grymes Hill, and better sidewalk systems that allow pedestrians to get a better view of oncoming traffic.
Students also feel as though the conditions are unsafe. Graduate student Deeksha Chawla walks to and from Wagner's campus on Howard Ave. every day and stated, "I definitely feel unsafe when I'm walking on a sidewalk and it just ends, or I run into an area barricaded by foliage. I have to walk on the road, which makes me feel very exposed." Wagner senior Kevin Ferriera stated, "I walk to the S53 bus every day for work, and cars cannot see me when I am coming around the corners. There is no crosswalk near Highland Ave., and I always doubt whether or not it is safe to cross the street." Even drivers feel the unsafe conditions! Junior Nick Troisi said, "The drivers on the road are very aggressive and its hard enough driving on the roads, never mind walking!"
While all of the efforts that Laura and others have put into changing the conditions on our roads is great, I feel as though it is also the responsibility of Wagner students to keep our roadways safe. Laura left me with the idea that we don't have to be passive residents and can make change. Whether it is adding our voices to the cause, helping Laura in her endeavors, or simply making sure we are driving the speed limit and being courteous toward pedestrians and cyclists, we all can contribute to making our community safer.
Follow the signs, slow down and save lives! Through awareness and taking the time to make the change ourselves, we will prevent any further tragedies and will help make this a safe place to walk, drive, and ride for future Wagner students.
Until Next Time!